Empathy Beyond Our Own

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Woman at the Well by Crystal Close.

There was a moment in the middle of my interview with Tara Bench for this issue’s cover story where she corrected me in (literally) the nicest way possible. I was explaining that I feel like we really don’t know how someone is feeling until we have experienced the same type of trial, when she replied, “I do think we can have pure empathy and understanding of other people’s pain without having to go through it . . . ourselves.”

She went on to explain that while experiencing the same things certainly allows us to relate to one another in a unique way, “pain doesn’t always have to be so specific.”

“I am not a mother; I may never have children, but I can talk to other women and other parents who are going through things with their children and I can still ask—I can even ask in prayer . . . to have understanding to help this person,” she explained (see “A Taste of Faith in New York City” ).

I’ve found myself thinking about those words over and over again. How many times have I allowed seeming barriers of experience to keep me from even attempting to mourn with those that mourn?

In a recent episode of the Magnify podcast, Carolina Núñez, a professor of law at Brigham Young University, said this of her visit to mothers in an immigrant detention center: “As I watched them cry, and as I watched them hold their babies, they were like me, even though they weren’t. I felt so connected to them. I knew that they loved their families in the same way that I love mine, and that they had the same goals for their families that I have for mine” (see “The Proximity Principle”).

Carolina felt deep connection with and empathy for these women, even though she hasn’t been through the exact same experience. This empathy was demonstrated by the Savior, long before He suffered in the garden, in His interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland writes, “He saw past the traditions and the wrangling and the pettiness of men. . . . What He saw was a chance to lift a life, to teach a human soul, to edify a child of God and move her toward salvation” (see “The Savior’s Uncommon Invitation”).

What if we could see the world a little more like He did? What if we focused less on the areas in which we are different and more on our shared experience?

We all have a need to be seen by those around us as the unique beings that we are, but we also all need to know we’re not alone. Our pains may be different, but perhaps we could focus on the fact that the emotions we feel and often the lessons we are learning amid our challenges are similar, if not the same. We all need each other—sometimes we lift and sometimes we need lifting—but in the process, both parties are moved closer toward salvation.

Could there be a more important cause?

Cheering you on,

Morgan Pearson

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